Wednesday, January 09, 2008

TV or Books?

In his latest post to Detectives Beyond Borders, Peter Rozovsky writes:

My beefs with Law and Order are the (faux?) handheld camerawork and the humorless deadpan batting back and forth of sound bites about Important Issues. The former may have been edgy in the late 1960s and seemed edgy in early music videos, but now it's an annoying cliché. The latter is an unsuccessful attempt to get around something that books can do better than television: convey factual information.

That shortcoming is especially noticeable in shows about forensic investigation, where characters will recite aloud to one another lines like "In some respects, he meets the typical profile: White male, 30 to 35 years old, lives alone, good job, some graduate school. You know, I bet he tends not to have many friends and has trouble forming relationships with women." Real investigators would know this stuff and would not need to spout it to each other. The actors' delivery is invariably wooden, and the scenes destroy the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for drama or fiction to work. In fiction, this sort of thing is called an information dump. In television, it's called Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

...And now, readers, over to you. In what other ways do books tell stories better than television? What advantages, if any, does television have as a medium for telling stories?

I commented:

Books are better at delivering characters' thought processes and internal monologue throughout, getting to feel much more intimate than the voiceover many shows and movies have done to death.

Point taken about TV information dumps, but I'll stick around if interesting characters are delivering them, like Abby Sciuto of NCIS or Dr. Gregory House.

TV generally handles pacing better than books do. TV has less time to establish relationships and give exposition, so things are usually cut down to the essentials. This is better than reading flat backstory/expository passages by an author who doesn't have a way with words.

I'll add that TV handles action sequences better. Sometimes after reading a fight scene on the page, my only mental image is of a game of Twister.


Peter said...

Thanks for the comment over on my blog and on here.

I replied to you over there that I thought people took the whole C.S.I. thing more seriously as a phenomenon than as top-quality television. Seems to me the shows that people rank up among the greats are all about character. I mentioned The Sopranos as an example.

And now I'd better shut up. I realize that I was making a point about a particular kind of information dumping that seems to have become wildly popular in a particular type of show. Yikes, but I may have opened myself to some good talking-tos from people who know a lot more about TV than I do!

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gerald So said...

I don't mean my comment as a talking-to, Peter. I'm a fan of both books and TV/film, and your post gave me a chance to reflect on why. I appreciate it.

Peter said...

Ha! No, don't worry; a talking-to is not a bad thing if it compels me to approach the subject in new ways -- or to sharpen my original argument.

Now, just see what happens when we drag movies into the discussion.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"